Craig Mod: a day in the life of an urban explorer

Making a living from travel is a dream for most of us but, for Craig Mod, it's a reality. His career involves documenting his treks across Japan online and in print – here's how he does it.
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There are two modes that Craig Mod fluctuates between. In one he's on the road, exploring lesser-populated and lesser-known parts of Japan for ‘monastic walking’ treks that can last for weeks at a time over upwards of 1,000km. In the other, Craig is a programmer who designs crowdfunding software and operates an online newsletter subscription for approximately 30,000 people. Craig uses his adventures in Japan as inspiration for his weekly and monthly newsletters, travelogs and books that all document the places and people he interacts with along the way. Originally from the US, he's lived in Japan since moving to the country in his teens for university.


‘Ideally, I'll walk 15km to 20km in a day. I wake at 8am, shower, have yogurt and get going. My 12kg pack has water, my laptop, a video camera and clothes. I use a Leica M10 camera to take photos. I don't allow myself any social media or news, and I set rules to record a video of the landscape or photograph a portrait of someone before 10am. If I see a great kissaten [tea room], I'll have toast and eggs and coffee, or pizza toast [a thick slice of toast with pizza toppings] and photograph and talk with the owner. The only thing I set up beforehand is a hotel. By knowing exactly where I have to go, I've got freedom to work within that route.’


‘I usually FaceTime friends overseas for an hour a day. The calls can be inspirational and motivate me to talk to people I pass. Most of the walk is in silence. I'm on the lookout for details and am in constant writing mode, dictating audio-to-text notes into my phone, always working through paragraphs in my mind. Any historical information I add is about providing context. Hopefully it doesn't come off as academic because the walks are about seeing what the areas have become, including the horrible pachinko [pinball-esque slot machines] parlors and chain drug stores and highways, not just cherry-picking the Disneyland elements.’


‘I get to the hotel or inn no later than 5pm, do laundry, figure out dinner, and start the media ingestion process. I'm in this dreamlike state of exhaustion. I edit and upload that day's videos to YouTube and go through all the photos, putting stars on anything with potential. Then I write the daily newsletter, insert photos and do four or five rounds of edits. It's after 10pm when the newsletter goes out. Drawing on this well of creativity – that [wasn't] as easily accessible [during the pandemic] – has been life-changing for me as a writer. I've finally found the writing voice that I'd been working towards for the past decade.’

This article was first published in 100 Ways to Make a Living 2022. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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